Finnish students in Scotland have been caught up in a coronavirus lockdown, and threatened with expulsion from university if they’re caught breaking the rules.
The warnings – and on-the-spot police fines – come as 60% of all new coronavirus cases in Scotland are registered in young people aged 15-24, with viral clusters at university halls of residence associated with an influx of students at the beginning of term.
Although Finnish students have been shunning UK universities by the hundreds since Brexit, Scotland is still one of the most popular places for Finns to study abroad. It’s reputedly home to the biggest population of Finnish students outside of Finland, and while some have decided to study remotely this semester others have traveled to Scotland for in-person tuition.
This weekend however all students were told to stay at home and not socialize, no matter if they lived on campus or in private accommodation. Having another, separate, layer of messaging for students on top of the existing coronavirus rules was criticised as confusing.
“It’s one of those things you have so many institutions giving rules, but nobody really knows if you’re actually breaking the law or just not following advice” says Robert Halenius, a third year student from Naantali, studying at the University of Aberdeen.
“The fines can be quite brutal as well” he notes. Police Scotland say they gave out 100 fines over the weekend to at least 300 house parties – and arrested 14 people for breaking the Covid-19 rules.
Finns at some Scottish universities received a notice on Monday saying they face expulsion if they’re caught in the home of another student, whether in halls of residence or off campus.
“I think anybody ever targeted by these rules would feel it a little bit unfair. In a subjective perspective, I’d say this sucks” 24-year old Halenius tells News Now Finland.
“The fact they’re targeting halls of residence and students in general, I think they could be doing things better. Libraries are opening, people are hanging around and gathering in the lawn at university and people are still meeting” he adds.
Concern for student mental health
Student union representatives have voiced their concern about the harsh lockdown measures, and what they perceive as attempts to ‘blame’ students for the spread of the virus on campus – despite universities encouraging students to return, especially those from outside the EU who bring the most money for tuition or housing.
“These measures are deeply concerning […] having different rules for students makes it even more confusing to stay within guidance, which could make things less safe” says Matt Crilly, the President of the National Union of Students in Scotland.
“The rules show a complete disregard for students’ mental health and wellbeing. We need better” he says.
The union is calling for targeted support for students who are isolating, and to make distance learning the default position for Scottish universities.
At Glasgow University, where a number of Finn are understood to be quarantined after a Covid-19 outbreak in a halls of residence, students were told they’d get a rent rebate on their accommodation, and were given food parcels.
Robert Halenius in Aberdeen says when winter comes it will be hard for students if they’re shut away and can’t mix in class or socially.
“I was kind of expecting it to take a turn for the worse and it seems like we’ll be doing everything online anyway, but this will probably affect people’s mental health for example. Right now it’s okay but when it gets dark you’ll be staying in your one bedroom flat and looking outside and there’s nobody there. You won’t be meeting many people.”
Halenius explains that he did have the option to remain in Finland instead of returning to university, but he has a job at a local outdoor equipment store in Aberdeen so opted to make the trip. The journey from Naantali to Aberdeen however took more than 30 hours, with connections through six cities as airlines canceled his flights en route.
And now as the semester gets started, he remains concerned about how much degree coursework can realistically be done online – or if he’s just treading water with his studies.
“I’m kind of worried that even though i’m not personally paying for my tuition, I’m paying in years of studies, and technically not studying at full potential. I can’t learn everything just by looking at YouTube videos. That really worries me.”